After a Couple of Weeks

Below are just a few sporadic and random thoughts I’ve been thinking about Dubai and the Gulf in my first couple of weeks here. They are in no specific order, nor are they fully fleshed out, just things I wanted to say and more importantly hear from others about.

1. The rule of law in Dubai –

Dubai seems to have a very interesting relationship between the government and the governed. On one hand, the city is very safe. This, according to most of my friends here, is because even petty crime is severely punishable (a fact widely known by residents) which means even the thought of committing a crime has to be weighed against the possibility of being punished severely if caught. On the other hand, prostitution is rather popular and not much of a secret. On more than one occasion I have heard stories about students at AUD going out to night-clubs and seeing prostitutes crowd the streets outside, be propositioned by men (natives and expatriates, alike) and so on. Some of the working-class neighborhoods are even known to have prostitutes walking the streets in broad daylight without much concern.

In the same vein, a couple of stories have made international news recently about Dubai and the UAE. One concerns a British tourist who claimed she had been raped at a night-club by a waiter, here in Dubai. Upon voicing her complaint to the Police Department in Jebel Ali, she and her fiancé  were arrested and charged with illegal consumption of alcohol and illegal pre-marital sex (with her fiancé who was with her at the police station and the night-club). Another famous incident involved the brother of the UAE’s president. Sheik Issa bin Zayed al-Nahayan was charged with brutally beating (including running over with an SUV) an Afghan merchant. The courts, citing the influence of prescribed medicine, acquitted Sheikh Issa of any crimes. Both of these stories have received minimal attention here in Emirati media. Although I have only been here 2 weeks, I would venture to say that if I asked any other students here on campus, or people on the streets, they would know very little about these two otherwise important stories.  I suppose at the end of the day the UAE is a monarchy, despite how modern it may seem with tall buildings, expensive cars and extravagant malls. And as in any other monarchy, your proximity to the monarch does mean the law applies to you differently.

In terms of the overall feel of law or lawlessness in Dubai, I think for the most part Emiratis and other natives have given Dubai up to expatriates and immigrants. One would be hard-pressed to find an area in Dubai that he/she could call the “Arab neighborhood,” while it is easy to point out Filipino neighborhoods, Indo-Pakistani neighborhoods, areas home to Europeans and North-Americans, etc. In becoming multi-national, I think Dubai has lost some of its own nationalism. While saying this, I am also keenly aware of the multi-billion dollar bailout that Dubai was afforded by neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi, so I suppose there is some level of camaraderie still left between the emirates.

2. The academic experience here at AUD –

So far, I have found the academic environment here at AUD to be akin to that of high school. Students here seem to be far more interested in their cars, clothes and social circles than in the classes they are paying thousands of Dirham to take. As in high school, if you wanted to be engaged with your academic experience in a meaningful way, you would have to step up and take charge of it, otherwise it was rather easy to be another face in the crowd and slide through. Perhaps it was just my experience at U of I, but in the last 3 years there I found it to be more the norm to be academically engaged than to be disconnected. Since I am interested in making the most of my academic experience, I have already found that it will take a lot of initiative on my part to get more out of my classes than just the power-points, lectures, readings, essays and exams. Not to say that I am discouraged by this, but I am just recognizing the fact that a lot of students would not bother to take similar initiatives. At the same time, maybe I’m just too academically oriented and can’t seem to see past the student experience. Oh well, I like it, it works for me. And in all honesty, this is the time in life when I can be a student and be immersed in it.

3. Dubai Marathon –

This morning I got to watch and cheer on the runners of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. World record holder Haile Gebreselassie won his 3rd straight title in a time of 2:06.09. It was incredible to see an elite athlete like Gebreselassie complete such a feat of human accomplishment. Having completed my first marathon in October 2009, I can truly say it was an amazing moment to be cheering him on and watching him complete the 40 km in less than half the time it took me. I’m still awe-struck.

I’ll have more comments later, I’m sure, about these and other topics. In the meanwhile, comment so I can hear from you all.